Novella Review: Mile 81 by Stephen King

Novella Review: Mile 81 by Stephen King

Title: Mile 81
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Paperback: 54 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library OverDrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

At Mile 81 on the Maine Turnpike is a boarded up rest stop on a highway in Maine. It’s a place where high school kids drink and get into the kind of trouble high school kids have always gotten into. It’s the place where Pete Simmons goes when his older brother, who’s supposed to be looking out for him, heads off to the gravel pit to play “paratroopers over the side.” Pete, armed only with the magnifying glass he got for his tenth birthday, finds a discarded bottle of vodka in the boarded up burger shack and drinks enough to pass out.

Not much later, a mud-covered station wagon (which is strange because there hadn’t been any rain in New England for over a week) veers into the Mile 81 rest area, ignoring the sign that says “closed, no services.” The driver’s door opens but nobody gets out.

Doug Clayton, an insurance man from Bangor, is driving his Prius to a conference in Portland. On the backseat are his briefcase and suitcase and in the passenger bucket is a King James Bible, what Doug calls “the ultimate insurance manual,” but it isn’t going to save Doug when he decides to be the Good Samaritan and help the guy in the broken down wagon. He pulls up behind it, puts on his four-ways, and then notices that the wagon has no plates.

Ten minutes later, Julianne Vernon, pulling a horse trailer, spots the Prius and the wagon, and pulls over. Julianne finds Doug Clayton’s cracked cell phone near the wagon door — and gets too close herself. By the time Pete Simmons wakes up from his vodka nap, there are a half a dozen cars at the Mile 81 rest stop. Two kids — Rachel and Blake Lussier — and one horse named Deedee are the only living left. Unless you maybe count the wagon…

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Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This is a typical Stephen King story where something as simple as a car turns out to be some sort of human-eating monster and is making a meal of people stopped at a rest stop. It’s well crafted in that it doesn’t just focus on the horror elements or give them too much page time. It mostly focuses on mundane human life and then adds the horrifying touches, which makes it even scarier: the horror isn’t the main show; rather, it creeps at the edges and pokes through mundane reality.

The novella starts off with a kid trying to get in trouble in order to impress his older brother, so he explores an abandoned rest stop and it goes from there. King greatly plays up the creepiness factor of the abandoned rest stop and adds to it by putting a monster car right in the middle. What was most impressive is how like-able he makes all of the characters so quickly. I found myself emotionally reacting to all of them getting in trouble with the car, even though they were only given a few short pages of characterization, which is exactly what makes King so great.

Mile 81 is a quick, entertaining read. If you’re in the mood for a short horror story or are a King fan, I definitely recommend.

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